A pilgrimage to communion with God

In November 2021, Blessed Carlo Acutis was named by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops as one of the patrons and intercessors of the National Eucharistic Revival. In a time of cynicism and religious apathy, Carlo was drawn to research one of the most unusual of all phenomena, Eucharistic miracles. He was 15 years old when he died, in 2006, and his last few days saw him comforting his parents about his imminent death. He was known for his devotion to the Eucharist.

The National Eucharistic Revival was launched in 2022 with the aim of strengthening Eucharistic belief in the church in the U.S. July 17 this year sees the start of the 10th National Eucharistic Congress, which will take place at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. The congress is being advertised as “a pivotal moment in both American history and the legacy of the Catholic Church.” But what is the purpose of tens of thousands of people coming together in the same place? What is the rationale behind such a congress? The Catholic Encyclopedia helps us to understand the nature of the event.

“Eucharistic Congresses are gatherings of ecclesiastics and laymen for the purpose of celebrating and glorifying the Holy Eucharist and of seeking the best means to spread its knowledge and love throughout the world. The real presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist is one of the principal dogmas of the Catholic faith and is therefore of paramount importance as the most precious treasure that Christ has left to his Church as the center of Catholic worship and as the source of Christian piety.”

The Eucharistic Congress has a long pedigree. The first one took place in Lille, France, in 1881 and since then the practice has spread throughout the world. The first one in the United States was at St. Louis, in 1901. The ninth and most recent one was in 1941, so the Indianapolis event will be the first one to take place in 83 years.

The congress bears witness to the deep reverence and devotion that we experience when confronted with the miracle of the true presence of Jesus under the appearance of bread and wine. It is a sign to the rest of the world of the existence of spiritual realities beyond our comprehension, a manifestation of our utter dependence on God for all things and a demonstration of the joy and consolation we can derive from giving God his rightful place as master of our lives. But the experience of the Congress is not just giving testimony of our faith to the world at large. It also intimates to the Lord the depth of our adoration, our obedience, and our love.

In a world that is crying out for relief from suffering, a society in which each of us aches with the wounds of the past, where the core of the family is disintegrating, and where the Evil One mocks the very essence of what it means to be a human being, the Eucharistic Congress is a sign of hope and a beacon in the moral darkness of our age.

As the pilgrims make their way to Indiana this July, we pray for them; for a renewal of their faith, a spur to their hope, and an increase of their love for Our Lord present in the Eucharist. But we also pray that our own faith in the true presence and our love for God will likewise be renewed and leave us more open to the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We pray for our own healing and the healing of our family and friends and we entreat God to protect us, console us, and enliven in us the gifts of our baptism and confirmation.

Here, one pilgrim to this year’s Eucharistic Congress, Teresa Hurd, spells out just what it means to her:

“The seed of my faith was planted on the day of my First Holy Communion. I remember the sisters telling us that we would be receiving Jesus, not only on our tongues (Pre-Vatican II back then) but in our hearts as well on that very day! When Vatican II happened several years later, how thrilled I was to receive him in my hands … Fulfilling what he said at the Last Supper, ‘Take and eat.’ The Eucharist burns within me, ever present, ever loving, ever forgiving. How exciting to attend this Eucharistic Congress and be in the midst of believers from across the country with the opportunity to continue to grow ever more deeply in our relationship with Jesus!” 

Jan Clements, another pilgrim to the Congress, shares her perspective.

“I’m 65 years old, a widow, a semi-retired nurse, and a parishioner at St. Mary’s parish in Pinckney. I’m a lifelong, cradle Catholic. It’s easy for us Catholics to take the faith we’ve been given for granted. So, I’m making this pilgrimage from Michigan to Indiana to deepen my faith and my relationship with our Eucharistic Lord!

“I’ve been a Eucharistic minister for about six years, at two different parishes, most recently at St. Mary. I can’t begin to relay what a beautiful ministry this has been over the years! I’ve had the honor of providing Holy Communion to those who are sick in hospitals, rehabilitation facilities and in homes. Seeing the deep faith, reverence and appreciation for the Eucharist in the faces of our most vulnerable brothers and sisters has deeply enriched my own faith. I’ve also been spending time in adoration at our St. Mary chapel, reflecting on all Christ has done to save us by dying for our sins and conquering sin and death through his resurrection. Going to adoration is my way of showing Jesus that I love him and by taking time out of my busy day to spend time with him.

“However, in my limited, concrete way of thinking, I’ve sometimes struggled to grasp the full meaning of the true presence of our risen Lord in the Eucharist. Last September, I read about the first Eucharistic Congress in 83 years coming to Indianapolis in July of 2024. I recognized that this is an opportunity to deepen and share my faith, to participate in unity with our one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic Church and to learn and grow in a deeper understanding and love of the Eucharistic Lord. Jesus gives us himself in the Eucharist as a way to stay close to him as we face the struggles and temptations of his fallen world. I hope to develop a special devotion to this amazing sacrament and to lead others in a deeper understanding of the Eucharist. After praying to Jesus about the Eucharistic Congress opportunity, I too am going to participate in this year’s Eucharistic Congress.”

Blessed Carlo Acutis, pray for us!